As a child visiting family in Zimbabwe, my memories are like a dream.
I remember sitting on the garden path, lost amongst the flowers, my bare toes wriggling in the sunshine. Barbecued lamb chops so succulent my mouth starts watering at the memory. A crystal blue swimming pool sparkling in anticipation, just waiting for my jumps. My mom smiling happily in the water, ready to catch me and cheer.
I was fortunate to have a happy, healthy childhood. I had nutritious food, a comfortable home, and an endless supply of clean water. But on World Health Day April 7, I think of children whose experiences couldn't be more different than mine.
Southern Africa is very close to my heart, as my family comes from the region. It shakes me to read that Zimbabwe's people are in a state of disaster because of drought. More than a quarter of the entire population is facing food shortages, because there's not enough consistent rainfall to grow their crops.
The struggle for survival
A World Vision colleague just back from Zimbabwe brought stories that were devastating to hear. He told me about Nelia, a grandmother raising seven children and grandchildren by herself. Four times, Nelia planted her seeds in the Zimbabwe soil and willed the rains to come. But the precipitation was unpredictable. The seeds dried up before they could germinate.
Even though Nelia knocked on doors, begging neighbours for the seeds to try again, she hasn't been able to grow enough to feed the children.
Nelia surveys the field where she had hoped her crops would grow this season. She is desperately worried about the seven children in her care. World Vision photo
Although Zimbabwe has made good progress many families still lack the basics like clean water and sanitation. But introduce something like drought, and you tighten the screws even further on a country's most vulnerable people -- its women and children. Nelia's family was an example. Their plight is shared by millions, across Zimbabwe and around the world.
The power to help
We could ignore Nelia's family this World Health Day, and focus instead on only issues which affect us here in Canada. But that would be such a waste, particularly since as Canadians we have the power to do something.
We have strong evidence that our development programs have worked in the past. Through the Millennium Development Goals, the world has lifted more than a billion people out of extreme poverty since the turn of the millennium. These same goals saw 48 million children live to see their fifth birthday that might not otherwise have made it past their first month of life.
Although only a third of the world's families live in fragile places, 60 per cent of the world's preventable maternal deaths occur there.
But it's important to note that most of the success has happened in countries that are more stable, politically and economically. In Tanzania, for example, Canada has worked with government to strengthen health systems from the national level right down to the community.
Through programs like those Canada provided in Tanzania, nutrition groups help mothers learn the best ways of nourishing themselves and their young children, gleaning local ingredients to make into highly nutritious foods. World Vision photo
This picture is very different in the world's more fragile places: countries like Somalia, South Sudan and Syria. Here, as we're seeing in the news each week, governments are either unable or unwilling to provide health care for their people.
Although only a third of the world's families live in fragile places, 60 per cent of the world's preventable maternal deaths occur there. Unfortunately, that's not surprising when the rights of women, especially adolescent girls, are most at risk when instability and conflict are the day-to-day reality. And of all the young children in the world who die from preventable causes like pneumonia or dehydration from diarrhea, more than half live in fragile places.
Dreaming of what's possible
Canada has shown its commitment to helping mothers and young children in fragile places. We've funded health programs and emergency responses in places like Haiti, Afghanistan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. All of these countries top mortality and malnutrition rankings, and badly need our continued help. But we need to do even more for the world's children and women, through government programs and individual actions alike.
There's no question that Canada can play a critical role in ending preventable child and maternal deaths within our generation -- especially in fragile places. Since the settings are often turbulent and chaotic, we must be flexible and adaptable. We must be ready to meet unexpected developments, like the drought which Zimbabwe is facing, while helping countries build long-term health systems to care for families as they grow.
We won't be acting alone
As fellow Canadians, I want to encourage you as we face this task together -- we won't be doing it alone. Even in the world's toughest places, we'll be partnering with people who are determined, resilient and full of hope. We can't forget that in Zimbabwe, grandmother Nelia tried four times in the same season to plant her crops.
This World Health Day, let's decide as a country to help bring preventable child and maternal deaths down to zero in the world's most fragile places.
To help provide children like Nelia's with clean, fresh water, please visit http://www.worldvision.ca
To learn more about mothers and young children in need, please visit http://promise.worldvision.ca
In Haiti and around the world, World Vision is helping provide clean water to children who otherwise would battle against waterborne illnesses. You can help by joining our clean water campaign.World Vision photo
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Azraq. Five-year-old Tamam is scared of her pillow. She cries every night at bedtime. The air raids on her hometown of Homs usually took place at night, and although she has been sleeping away from home for nearly two years now, she still doesn’t realize that her pillow is not the source of danger.
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Norberg, Sweden. Every night, Fatima dreams that she’s falling from a ship. Together with her mother, Malaki, and her two siblings, Fatima fled from the city Idlib when the Syrian national army senselessly slaughtered civilians in the city. After two years in a refugee camp in Lebanon, the situation became unbearable and they made it to Libya where they boarded an overcrowded boat. On the deck of the boat, a very pregnant woman gave birth to her baby after twelve hours in the scorching sun. The baby was a stillbirth and was thrown overboard. Fatima saw everything. When the refugee’s boat started to take on water, they were picked up by the Italian coastguard.
Suruc. Shiraz, 9, was three months old when she was stricken with a severe fever. The doctor diagnosed polio and advised her parents to not spend too much money on medicine for the girl who ”didn’t have a chance.” Then the war came. Her mother, Leila, starts crying when she describes how she wrapped the girl in a blanket and carried her over the border from Kobane to Turkey. Shiraz, who can’t talk, received a wooden cradle in the refugee camp. She lies there. Day and night.
Nizip. Mohammed, 13, loves houses. Back home, in Aleppo, he used to enjoy walking around the city looking at them. Now, many of his favourite buildings are gone, blown to pieces. Lying in his hospital bed, he wonders whether he will ever fulfill his dream of becoming an architect. – The strangest thing about war is that you get used to feeling scared. I wouldn’t have believed that, says Mohammed.
Beirut. Ralia, 7, and Rahaf, 13, live on the streets of Beirut. They are from Damascus, where a grenade killed their mother and brother. Along with their father, they have been sleeping rough for a year. They huddle close together on their cardboard boxes. Rahaf says she is scared of “bad boys,” at which Ralia starts crying.
Suruc. There’s a difference between closing your eyes and sleeping, as six-year-old Gulistan knows. She prefers to shut her eyes and just pretend, because every time she really falls asleep, the nightmares start. – I don’t want to sleep here. I want to sleep at home, she says. She misses the pillow she had in Kobane. Sometimes she lies against her mother and uses her as a pillow.
Amman. Moyad, 5, and his mother needed to buy flour to make a spinach pie. Hand in hand, they were on their way to the market in Dar’a. They walked past a taxi in which someone had placed a bomb. Moyad’s mother died instantly. The boy, who has been airlifted to Jordan, has shrapnel lodged in his head, back and pelvis.
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Zahle Fayda. Amir, 20 months, was born a refugee. His mother believes her son was traumatized in the womb. “Amir has never spoken a single word,” says Shahana, 32. In the plastic tent where the family now lives, Amir has no toys, but he plays with whatever he can find on the ground. “He laughs a lot, even though he doesn’t talk,” says his mother.
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Dar-El-Ias. Walaa, 5, wants to go home. She had her own room in Aleppo, she tells us. There, she never used to cry at bedtime. Here, in the refugee camp, she cries every night. Resting her head on the pillow is horrible, she says, because nighttime is horrible. That was when the attacks happened. By day, Walaa’s mother often builds a little house out of pillows, to teach her that they are nothing to be afraid of.
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Majdal Anjar. When Selam, 37, puts Esra, 11, Esma, 8, and Sidra, 6, to bed, she takes comfort from the knowledge that her children are safe and won’t come under attack during the night. What saddens her is the fact that they constantly dream about their father, who disappeared after being abducted, and wake up distraught. – I often dream that Daddy is bringing me candy, says Sidra.
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Amman. Eight-year-old Maram had just come home from school when the rocket hit her house. A piece of the roof landed right on top of her. Her mother took her to a field hospital, and from there she was airlifted across the border to Jordan. Head trauma caused a brain hemorrhage. For the first 11 days, Maram was in a coma. She is now conscious, but has a broken jaw and can’t speak.
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Horgos, Serbia. It is after midnight when Ahmed falls asleep in the grass. The adults are still sitting around, formulating plans for how they are going to get out of Hungary without registering themselves with the authorities. Ahmed is six years old and carries his own bag over the long stretches that his family walks by foot. “He is brave and only cries sometimes in the evenings,” says his uncle, who has taken care of Ahmed since his father was killed in their hometown Deir ez-Zor in northern Syria.